Spring/early summer brought challenges but ideal harvest produced balanced wines with good depth of fruit, colour and flavour. Best will merit 4 stars.
A rough start to the vintage. First, one of the driest springs in memory exacerbated existing drought conditions and encouraged precocious bud-break. Then, 22 days of hard frost in April savaged vineyards across the region. High winds and excessive heat brought more problems, upsetting flowering and reducing yield further. Monterey, Sonoma and Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo all suffered significant Merlot losses.
More moderate temperatures followed, though there were wide fluctuations, including a shrivelling heat in August in Napa. Sugar levels shot up in early September, in Sonoma in particular, but the return of cool, clear weather later on put the brakes on.
Harvesting ran from mid-September right though to late October – basking in a glorious Indian summer. Growers picked as they pleased as the grapes ripened without hitch.
Deep colour, good fruit concentration and balance are hallmarks of the vintage. The lowish yield and small bunch and berry sizes concentrated juices, while ideal harvest weather allowed the grapes to ripen at lower sugar levels. The most successful wines, of elegant style and balanced by bright acidity, will show a wide variety of flavours and aromas. Merlot fared especially well in Sonoma, and top offerings should have finesse. Expect luscious cherry and cassis flavours underpinned by supple, well-knit tannins. Napa had a very similar vintage – Merlots are fragrant and loaded with colour.
Central Coast Merlots are less intense, but rounded with pleasing fruit flavours, though tannins aren’t as smooth as the 2007s. Grapes ripened early in the Sierra Foothills; here the Merlots have very good sugar/acid balance.
Not sufficiently tasted, but good bets so far include Selene, Marilyn, Robert Foley, Ramsay, Fontanella, Duckhorn, Harrison, Havens, Matanzas Creek, St Francis, Silverado Vineyard.